The provincial government is announcing the first steps it wants to take to disentangle itself from the ongoing drama of the Global Transportation Hub (GTH).
Friday morning, the government sent out a news release confirming that it’s moving to divest itself from the GTH and it wants to hire a third party consultant to lead the changes.
Don Morgan, the minister responsible for the GTH, said the province wants to find a company to take over the day-to-day operations of the entity, and another from the private sector to market and sell the 700 acres of land at the GTH which is still unsold.
“We want to do something to ramp up the ability to sell the remaining land that’s there,” he said.
When asked why he thought the private sector could sell land at the hub when the government couldn’t, Morgan said that the private sector is in the business of real estate and he feels the private sector would be better at finding buyers.
That was shortly after he spoke about how companies aren’t looking to Saskatchewan for big plots of land.
The changes in operations could mean changes to staffing at the GTH, but the government said key staff will remain in place to keep the transition smooth.
The president and CEO of the GTH, Bryan Richards, has been let go. The current vice president of finance, Matt Schroeder, will take over as the interim CEO.
Morgan said the government expects the changes will help reduce the costs to Saskatchewan residents of running the GTH.
The entity will likely have to take on more debt to finance the changes, but Morgan still expects to come out of the whole ordeal with a profit.
“There’s no doubt there will be additional cost going on, absent some sales of land, which I hope are coming,” Morgan said.
The board of the GTH has done reviews and assessments, and this plan is what they came up with, he added. “They think this is the best way of containing some costs going forward, and the best way of getting an aggressive marketing strategy.”
The end-game of this whole thing is to get out of the GTH altogether. Morgan said the province will look at whether and how to do that once all the rest of the land at the hub is sold.
“Right now, the goal is to aggressively market the 700 acres that are left, and at that point in time we can consider what we do with the remaining structures that are there — which is roads, streets, and the ability to levy land taxes,” Morgan said.
The GTH is a huge parcel of land west of the City of Regina. It was bought and developed by the Government of Saskatchewan to be a hub for manufacturing and import and exporting, but has been mired in controversy the last few years — from questions over who made money in the sale of land and how, to the large swaths of empty space that seems to be difficult to sell.
GTH move ‘just a bunch of noise,’ says NDP
The opposition NDP doesn’t feel the Sask. Party government is getting very far by trying to sell off the GTH land piece by piece.
Cathy Sproule, the NDP’s GTH critic, says having a private third-party step in won’t help the soft real estate market.
“I think it’s a desperate attempt to try and show that (the government) is doing something without really doing anything,” she said. “It’s just a bunch of noise.”
Sproule noted that having a private sector company move in to do the administrative work for a public agency isn’t a good move either.
Despite Morgan predicting a profit in the end, Sproule added she sees this as a way to absorb taxpayers’ money, rather than to replenish it.
“I just don’t think that the money the taxpayers have sunk into this bottomless pit will ever come back,” she said. “I would like him to prove to us how he thinks this will make a difference.”
The NDP also argues the government’s plan to divest is a way to shield the provincial corporation from public scrutiny by moving it off the public books.
— With files from Jessie Anton